Spent the evening last night with my buddy Matt at the Black Rose in Boston.
The Black Rose is a funny place. I used to go there when I worked across the street at the big financial place, trying to reconcile myself in three piece suits and nylons every day, trying to tell myself that working in a big financial institution wearing three piece suits and commuting three hours home and back every day on the train was somehow being an adult. That is, a better person.
Walking into the Black Rose was a reality check.
Look, it’s a tourist trap. It’s smack dab in the middle of all the tourist BS downtown, right off Faneuil Hall and it’s not run by some Irish family as it has been for generations — like many other pubs in Boston — it’s run by a “Hospitality Group” and it’s not a pub where I walk in and people say “oh hi, Kate, where ya been” and I’ve had pubs like that in my life. Like the Poet and the Patriot in Santa Cruz where on a given night I knew most of the people around me and there was a good chance someone would just pull an instrument out and we’d start singing and playing, impromptu.
The Black Rose isn’t like that. It’s not small and cramped and smoky and romantic.
It’s a big fucking pub, two stories, with tourists.
But this thing happens there. Almost every time I walk in it’s different, and there’s some new experience that’s as much about the patrons as the bar itself, it’s a weird, magic, unexpected thing.
Like last night, when I told Matt look, it’s Monday in fact it’s a holiday Monday, likely it’s dead but we’ll see what’s up, and so we took a cab over and walked in and sure enough it was all quiet but the thing about pubs is there’s no loss ever in terms of pubs because that’s where the beer comes from.
And halfway into the first pint this guy gets up on stage with a guitar, which is fine and I think nothing of it because a guy on the stage with a guitar is not four people with fiddles and whistles and your goddamn Uilleann pipes, right? It’s just some guy and a guitar but music’s fine, and there was beer so no complaints there, I was mostly just happy there was going to be some kind of music.
About then, the guy opened his mouth and started singing.
Let’s go back for a second and remember what pubs and music are all about. I was thinking about this the other day, about what constitutes leisure and how if you work on a farm or in a factory or even in an office in a pair of high heels and itchy nylons and it all feels less like clothes and more like drag, how you spend your day having your sense of self eroded. But you do it because money has to happen and you’re not captain of your own time and at the end of the day you want to be with people who don’t make you feel like shit about yourself. And you want to be entertained.
Sure, there’s a whole group of people who go and listen to Irish music in pubs because it’s a thing and maybe they’re like… 12% Irish by ancestry and it’s some kind of connection. And they like the music and it’s also just what that generation of people do, because we went to too much Ren Faire and listened to the Pogues and got Celtic knotwork tattooed on us and it was just kind an incidental part of who we are.
Or some of us grew up steeped in folk music, the Seegers and the Guthries and Dylan and the Dubliners and the music of social change is a theme, a constant in our heads even when we’re long past the generations of the Troubles, or factories and lockouts or maybe we actually have in our own times been locked out, or walked out, and look, almost every story I write is about prisoners in jail or whalers and sailors, or the working class. I don’t think that’s some kind of coincidence.
And at the end of the day, we love some internet but we also feel a need, a desire to get the fuck out of the house, to connect with people, drink beer and be entertained.
So we go to a pub, and maybe it feels right for a variety of reasons but what we look for is connection with a bunch of other people, strangers and friends or both, and entertainment that echoes who we are and what we think and believe and know, and that’s how we get, somehow our sense of self back, in some small way.
Terry Brennan got up last night and owned the stage and everyone in the room. He’s got a perfect, certain voice and he knows all the standards, and so did the crowd. “4, 3, 2, 1!” he yelled and so we banged on the tables and clapped our hands for The Wild Rover and it’s good when the table almost falls over and the empty pint glasses dance around. That’s when you know it’s a good night, when instead of — okay, I just have to say it I’m sorry I’m going straight to hell — a bunch of hipsters stand around being cool at the small local Irish pub and completely fucking drown out the little seisiún going on with their asinine chatter, the people in the bar make total idiots of themselves doing something completely not like dancing and banging on tables and belting out “Sweet Caroline” like their lives depended on it.
But not just that. Most of us also knew the Fields of Athenry and sure, we have Dropkick Murphys to thank for that in large part but that was Brennan’s version. Not the Dubliners, not DMs, it was his, and we all sang along and that song? It fucking means something and for a second even the people who’d never heard it before in that bar got that.
Because we all sat together and either sang or listened and that was a real, shared moment.
And that’s what the fucking pub’s for.